Nothing leaking here
Six months before SRAM HydroR hit the market, an insider told us it was coming. That bike maker suggested that you could race a CX bike with a rear brake only for maximum mud clearance and weight savings. The power from hydraulics was more than enough in a CX race, he thought, because you usually only scrub speed into turns with a tap or two before barriers, and no long descents.
Flash forward to this month when I find myself testing out his great idea on a SRAM HydroR Disc-equipped Crux. Except the functional brake is on the front because the rear hydraulic brake failed without warning. Not once, but twice.
I swung my leg over the Crux, landed on the seat, and rolled out of the driveway, as I do on weekdays for a training ride. Banked right, then left, pulled the rear lever descending near an intersection and (dramatic pause)… nothing. Nosewheeling with the front brake down to level ground, I got rad, and I don’t get rad, because I’m not f’ing Adam Craig. I was shaken up and mad.
No leaks here either
Just the Facts, Ma’am
Living in a hilly, coastal city, there was more descending and climbing to do before I arrived back home, so I rode towards the nearest shop, Cycle-U, where their number one mechanic Jeff inspected the brakes. With no visible leak and pads intact, we concluded this failure was a maintenance issue. I’d ridden the Crux about a thousand miles, including a handful of races. The air bubble in the rear line got bled out and I was back on my way.
Bled the line
Meanwhile SRAM sent me a replacement caliper with shifter and I corroborated similar failures happening to other Seattle-area cyclists.
About four hours of ride time later and before Jeff installed the replacement caliper, the rear failed again in traffic when a dump truck turned towards me, and I skidded to a stop. After pulling the rear lever that hard, it gave way the next time to no brakes. WTF is going I wondered and so did everyone else I was talking to about the sudden loss of braking power. Again there was no leaks when Jeff replaced the caliper and the olive and barb (where the hose intersects with the brake mechanism) were intact. He did find the rear caliper compression nut was loose. It was tightened to 3.5 Nms instead of 5.
How did that happen? SRAM Tech Support, who built the bike up for me, said this…
When installing SRAM HydroR brakes, proper torque on the compression nut is critical to optimal performance. If the nut is not torqued to 5 Nm, the olive will not crush properly. This can allow air into the system, and can allow fluid to bypass into the hose liner, potentially leading to brake failure. Because the system is designed to function with a certain amount of air, this may not happen immediately; it can take some time for enough air to build up to be noticeable. Be sure to use a torque wrench and perform a proper bleed whenever installing a new barb and olive on a HydroR brake.
SRAM, who were also very responsive and helpful, hadn’t seen this issue happening with OEM-built bikes. Then at Deschutes CX in Bend Oregon, HydroR systems failed and a recall was issued for 19,000 units yesterday, including a stop-use immediately notice.
It has recently come to our attention that during last weekend’s Cyclocross racing in the US, in sub freezing temperatures, several failures were reported. In these conditions the master cylinder seals failed to hold pressure resulting in abrupt loss of brake power, and an inability to stop the bike. These failures are related to product that is outside the originally stated date code range and unrelated to the original failure mode. No injuries have been reported to date.
At Hugga HQ, we’re waiting for next steps like everyone else racing and riding HydroR equipped bikes, but I know that SRAM is diligently working on the issue. I’m confidant in their abilities. Just like Sinyard and Cafe Roubaix, this a defining moment for SRAM.
How they handle it will play out and they’re known for the highest QA standards in the business, including using SAP at their factories, pulling samples and testing them frequently.
Reacting to the recall, on Twitter I said this…
But I don't wanna ride rim brakes anymore.
— byron@bikehugger (@bikehugger) December 13, 2013
And the rest of the story is that I’ve been riding Hydro since the summer, both rim and disc with no issues until recently when it got cold. The demo Crux is hanging in the garage now on lockdown and I’m rattled by these failures and recalls too. I had no issues after a week of riding with the replacement caliper installed and the compression nut tightened properly. I did lament quality control in the industry on Medium, in a season where I’ve had an unusual number of mechanicals while riding.
Luckily, none of us experiencing these failures got hurt. As that insider thought, there’s enough power in just one brake. To get you home at least.
High-rez photos from this post are on G+